I grew up on Osteen Street in Port Wentworth.
Although my parents told me that for the first few years of my life we lived in the old Savannah Garden Apartments on President Street that have long been demolished, I don’t remember those times. My childhood memories start and end in Port Wentworth. And they are good memories.
Unlike those who have blocked out childhood memories because of ugly incidents or tragedies they don’t want to recall, I cherish mine. Good friends, a great neighborhood, loving parents — all the ingredients for a great place to grow up. As I grow older I realize even more how lucky I was to grow up in such a great place — extremely lucky.
I left home the day I turned 18 — not out of teenage anger or because my parents kicked me out but it just happened to be the day I left to go off to college. After being away for five years at college, I returned with a beautiful bride and we chose to make Pooler our home. Again, luck shone upon me.
A few years ago, while I was representing West Chatham and South Effingham counties in the state House of Representatives, I was invited to a dinner in Atlanta honoring our state’s National Guard. I’m very familiar with this great organization as my first job was as a landscape engineer, aka grass cutter, at Travis Field during high school.
As fate would have it, I was joyously reunited that night with one of my childhood friends who also grew up on Osteen Street.
Larry Dudney, a red-headed, side-armed pitcher who was the drummer at Port Wentworth Elementary School, was there in uniform — the kind of uniform that a brigadier general for the Georgia Army National Guard wears.
Catching up with my childhood friend that night was quite a treat. Larry’s family had moved to Effingham County when he reached high school and we had lost contact since then, so we had a lot of catching up to do.
After high school, Larry graduated from Georgia Southern University and also earned a degree from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. Larry is a true Georgian — a home-grown product.
Brig. Gen. Dudney’s military career has been exemplary. He has served two combat tours overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Afghanistan tour, he served as commanding officer of a NATO command.
He has also received two of the military’s highest awards while stateside, the Soldiers Medal and the Purple Heart.
Brig. Gen. Dudney received the Purple Heart for the heroism he displayed on Sept. 11, 2001. That fateful day, while he was on assignment at the Pentagon, terrorists flew a hijacked jet into the building. He was cited for his participation in the rescue — a true American hero who grew up on Osteen Street in Port Wentworth.
Last week I got a call from my childhood friend and the news was not good. He had been fired from his position.
That’s right. This Georgia-grown hero had been fired only a few days after he was the featured speaker in a ceremony welcoming the arrival of a portion of the Pentagon’s west wall to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins.
It is well known that politics play a big part in the National Guard. The governor appoints the adjutant general who oversees the state Department of Defense and its 14,000 members. Recently, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he was appointing state Sen. Jim Butterworth from Cornelia in Northeast Georgia to replace Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt at the end of September.
But earlier this week, Maj. Gen. Nesbitt started cleaning house and fired a number of high ranking officers while still others announced they were resigning, a sad ending to his four years at the helm of our state’s ultimate volunteer organization.
Now Gov. Deal and Sen. Butterworth have been put into a very unenviable situation that only they can bring reasonableness and fairness to. Let us hope that they do just that.
As for my childhood friend from Osteen Street in Port Wentworth, regardless of the outcome of all of this, you will always be one of our state’s and our nation’s heroes.